Canoe Lake - It's 3 o'clock in the afternoon . You're up to your knees in mud. There are mosquito bites all over you. Your canoe is stuck in a swamp and you want to get out by sundown.
What do you do?
Although this all sounds like a cheesy version of Deliverance as performed by Keanu Reeves, you can easily find yourself in this situation in Algonquin Park, southern Ontario's largest nature reserve and nirvana for every outdoorsy type.
Expecting my long weekend to be the usual - boring barbecues, worse camping trips, crap weather - I jump at the offer to head to Algonquin at the invite of five friends. Promising a quiet yet adventurous weekend of paddling, portaging and swimming, they had me immediately packing my bags and running from work to meet them.
We enter the park at Canoe Lake, 77 kilometres east of Huntsville, and get our permit at the park office, where there's a full-service canoe rental/restaurant as well.
After filling out the necessary paperwork, we hit the water and begin the trek northward.
The park is well mapped out. All lakes and portages are properly drawn and coloured so canoers can find them without difficulty. Most portages are short and can be negotiated easily. Just make sure your gear is properly secured. After paddling hard to the end of Canoe Lake, we portage into nearby Teepee Lake, where we decide to bed down for the night.
Most of the campsites are quite complete, with firepits and miniature outhouses, aka shitboxes. During our stay, though, the lack of decent firewood does make building a good, slow-burning fire a chore. That, coupled with the surplus of mosquitoes, adds an element of discomfort. After some swimming, a meal of hamburgers and, OK, various hard liquors, we call it a night.
The further you paddle, the more beautiful the scenery gets. Antlered moose, deer, terns, loons and turtles appear before the backdrop of peaceful-looking conifers and igneous rock formations along the shore, adding a haunting quality as you row.
Further north, the portaging gets to be a pain. The mosquitoes are out en masse and some of the terrain on the footpaths is rugged. By early July, evaporation and beaver damming reduce many small, rowable ponds to muddy, difficult bogs.
The mud is like quicksand, soft and quite stinky. More than once we get hung up in such areas and end up leading the canoe barefoot through a dogwood-infested swamp, reminding us of those fateful scenes in The NeverEnding Story.
If we were true wusses, we'd bitch and complain until the cows came home. But we remind each other that this sort of Huck Finnesque adventure is what we've been craving, and soon we emerge from the bogs onto deeper, bluer lakes.
We spend our last night near the more northern lakes around Burnt Island, atop a rocky campsite with a gorgeous view of the water. We swim, eat and finally doze to the call of the loons.